The transfer of the Chinese navy aircraft carrier Liaoning to Pakistan with subsequent deployment in the port of Sri Lanka is capable of upsetting the balance of power in the Indian Ocean. China’s participation in the rearmament of Pakistan’s naval forces (Navy) is capable of finally destroying Sino-Indian relations, which are on the brink of war after a clash between Chinese and Indian border guards in the Ladakh region. The purchase of a Chinese aircraft carrier could also have a negative impact on Pakistani-US relations and their future cooperation.
War by proxy
The probable expansion of the combat capabilities of the Pakistani Navy due to the transfer of the Chinese Navy aircraft carrier “Liaoning” raises concerns of its regional competitor – India and other countries in the Indian Ocean. This is primarily due to China’s lease of a port in Sri Lanka. According to foreign experts, the sale of “Liaoning” to Pakistan can be carried out after the commissioning of Chinese aircraft carriers of their own construction in 2030-2035. By this time, the aircraft carrier Liaoning will fulfill its combat training functions and can be modernized and transferred on a commercial basis to a third party. Thus, the countries of South Asia have some time to prepare and develop a response strategy.
“The transfer of the Liaoning to Pakistan can be seen as an expansion of the military presence of the PRC Navy in the Indian Ocean“
Given the difficult domestic economic situation, the Pakistani side may not be able to offer a fair price for the purchase of the ship. Nevertheless, given the special allied relations between the PRC and Pakistan, such a transfer of Liaoning can be viewed as an expansion of the military presence of the PRC Navy as part of the continuation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the search for the most optimal routes for transporting goods to the countries of the Middle East and Europe. …
In addition, given the instability of the Pakistani economy, the Chinese side will not only subsidize the costs of its maintenance and repair, but also fully train all crew members of the Pakistani Navy. In the event of the sale or donation of the aircraft carrier by the Chinese side, one of the locations of its deployment may be the port of Hambantota, located in the south of Sri Lanka, which is now fully owned and operated by China. Given that Hambantota was originally designed as a bunkering facility, support vessels of the aircraft carrier group can also be placed there.
How to correctly overlay the enemy
It is known that in July 2017, the leadership of Sri Lanka transferred a controlling stake in the port of Hambantota to China, and also provided 15 thousand acres of surrounding land for a 99-year lease. In exchange, China has written off 1.1 billion in debt on loans issued to Sri Lanka as part of the infrastructure project “One Belt – One Road”. The signed agreement technically prohibits military use of the port. The only exceptions are cases of permission from the government of Sri Lanka.
Despite repeated statements by the PRC leadership about exclusively commercial interests in the port of Hambantota, this project has a rather weak feasibility study compared to the amount of debt written off. The sale of an aircraft carrier to the Pakistani Navy and its subsequent redeployment to the port of Sri Lanka can have a serious destabilizing effect on the situation in the region and pose a threat to India’s national security. The constant patrolling and movement in the Arabian Sea of an aircraft carrier strike group (AUG) led by “Liaoning” can threaten the coastal industrial belt of India, which includes the main state business center – the city of Mumbai. A scenario involving the first Pakistani AUG in Indian Ocean waters could well mean
One option for India, then, may be to put back pressure on China. To this end, the expansion of anti-Chinese military cooperation with Vietnam and the deepening of its naval support will be used. However, the Vietnamese side may limit its interaction with India in order to exclude a possible increase in tension in Sino-Vietnamese relations.
The second scenario implies for the Indian side the expansion of cooperation directly with Sri Lanka by providing economic support. The main goal of this option may be to create a negative background around the presence of the Chinese side in the port of Hambantota with a possible revision of the agreement on its lease by China.
It is obvious that the transfer, on any terms, of the Chinese navy aircraft carrier Liaoning to Pakistan, followed by its deployment in the port of Sri Lanka leased by China, could seriously upset the strategic balance of power in the Indian region. However, the purchase of a Chinese aircraft carrier could have a negative impact on Pakistani-US relations and cooperation. The decision by the Pakistani leadership to acquire the Liaoning and relocate it to the port of Hambantota will be carried out taking into account the possibility of maintaining stable relations with both China and the United States.
Recall that the command of the Pakistani Navy has already begun to implement plans to re-equip this type of armed forces. In January 2020, Sea Eagle naval patrol aircraft were taken into service, in November 2019, a ceremony was held for the commissioning of the new hydrographic vessel Ber Massa, in October 2019 at the Turkish shipyard Istanbul Naval Shipyard the ceremony of cutting the first steel for the construction of the Ada-class lead corvette.